What inspires an employee to perform well, benefit the company and achieve set goals? The answer to this question is important in understanding how to manage employees and find solutions for bad performance. While skills and knowledge will get an employee only so far, the right motivation, ability and environment are great performance influencers, and will take them way beyond their boundaries.

Motivation is the desire to reach a certain performance level, achieve a goal and exhibit goal-directed behaviour. So if a person is referred to as being motivated, it implies that that person is putting in a lot of effort in working towards a goal or task. Motivation is a key factor that drives performance. Ability, or skills and knowledge, and environmental factors such as information, resources and support are also important alongside motivation to drive up employee performance.

Achieve A Goal And Exhibit Goal Directed Behaviour

Achieve A Goal And Exhibit Goal Directed Behaviour

So the question remains as to what motivates people? Also, why do some employees work hard to reach goals and perform better, while other merely warm their chairs? The answer is far from simple, and may be better understood with Herzberg’s two-factor theory on motivation.

The Two-Factor Theory Explained

As early as 1959, behavioural scientist Frederick Herzberg proposed his famous two-factor theory, also known as the motivator-hygiene theory. The theory concludes that factors that satisfy employees and those that cause dissatisfaction are very different. To truly motivate an employee, therefore, a business has to create conditions that cause satisfaction and fulfilment. On one hand is the true motivating or satisfying factors. On the other hand is what he terms as “hygiene factors”, which can lead to dissatisfaction if inadequate or absent. Motivation is a result of a proper balance of improvements in both factors.

Hygiene Factors

Hygiene factors involve the context of the job itself, and which are essential for motivation to exist. While these factors don’t really provide long-term satisfaction, if they are non-existent, it can lead to dissatisfaction and lack of motivation. They need to be reasonably adequate and are more often referred to as maintenance factors, as they essentially symbolize an employee’s physiological needs. Hygiene factors include:

  • Company Policies: These should be balanced and not too rigid. Fairness and clarity are also crucial, and they should include vacations, breaks and dress codes.
  • Fringe Benefits: Establishments should offer employees and their families benefits such as health and help programs.
  • Salary Structure: There should be a reasonable and fair salary structure that is competitive while also being equal within the same domain.
  • Status: An employee’s status within a company should be retained, recognized and strong.
  • Working Conditions: Physical working conditions should be clean, employee-friendly and hygienic. Ideally, and employee shouldn’t find it hard to perform well in the current environment.
  • Interpersonal Relations: Business and interpersonal relationships between employees and management should be acceptable and appropriate. Humiliation and conflict will only cause dissatisfaction.
  • Job Security: A level of job security should be present so that employees can focus on work without having to worry about employment.
Dream - Courage - Inspire - Harmony

Dream – Courage – Inspire – Harmony

Hygiene factors are essential, but are not the ultimate motivators. For example, it can be extremely difficult to work in a hot office at the peak of summer, or if there is constant mistreatment. However, if these problems were resolved, this alone will not lead to employee motivation. On the contrary, many would just take the situation for granted. Motivators, though, are different.


Motivators are factors that are fundamental to work and performance and yield positive satisfaction, causing them to also be known as satisfiers. They are rewarding and cater to the psychological needs of employees. Motivational factors include:

  • Growth: Opportunities for promotions and growth within a company are solid motivators.
  • Responsibility: When employees are given the chance to be responsible for work, they tend to be better motivated. This is especially the case when managerial control is less but accountability is more.
  • Recognition: Recognizing employees for their work helps them to keep performing well.
  • Meaningful Work: Work should be interesting, meaningful and challenging to keep an employee motivated.
  • Sense Of Achievement: Employees should enjoy a sense of achievement in their work for them to keep performing well.

Application Of The Two-Factor Theory In Establishments

Herzberg two-factor theory does have its limitations because it tends to overlook situational variables, and is not a foolproof method of determining motivating factors. However, it still is a valuable aid to managers since it helps in improving work environments to increase employee motivation. While contextual factors matter, giving employees challenging work and a job environment in which to thrive will help even more.

Some companies such as Tesco have successful models of implementing this theory. Forums are held in which employees’ efforts are recognized, encouraging them to do more. Zappos, too, is an example of establishments that have successfully applied the two-factor theory. By prioritizing on employee needs rather than merely pushing for performance, these companies and many others have been able to boost performance without burning out their staff.